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Q:

CJV: How did Copland transition into film and ballet compositions, which in turn led to one of the most productive periods in his career?

KL: In the late 1930s, Copland started writing for the movies. He headed to Hollywood for several years to establish a reputation, but was consistently rebuffed due to his lack of film experience. His persistence and strong desire to write in this medium are what prompted his acceptance of a commission to score the music for The City, produced in 1939 for the New York World’s Fair. One of his goals for that project, beyond outlining the landscape of an idealized American city, was to gain film experience. And so he did. Copland followed The City with multiple Hollywood film scores, including Of Mice and Men and Our Town. During the late 1930s Copland serendipitously met Lincoln Kirstein, one of the original founders of the American Ballet and a co-founder (in partnership with George Balanchine) of the New York City Ballet. Believing that ballet should be more than a diversion for the privileged, Kirstein formed Ballet Caravan to present ballet on specifically American themes to national audiences of all means. He commissioned Copland to score his libretto for the Caravan’s performance of Billy the Kid, with choreography by Eugene Loring. This experience is what I believe prompted his work in the 1940s, Copland’s greatest period of output and musical populism. It was the dawn of the period in which he produced most of the music we think of as quintessential Copland: the ballets Rodeo (1942) and Appalachian Spring (1944), as well as his Third Symphony (1944-1946) which incorporates materials from his Fanfare of the Common Man (1942) and, in my personal opinion, remains the great American symphony. Copland’s music is inspiring because it mirrors the ideals of American life…the myths we all have in our heads. Appalachian Spring is not about “spring,” or even necessarily about Appalachia…it is about the pioneer spirit—finding your own land, your life partner, and your place in society. What excites me about this summer’s “festival within a festival” is that we can link these pieces, which occupy a five-year period in the middle of Copland’s life, to the rest of his compositional development. Copland composed continually from 1920 to early 1970s, but infrequently in the last years of his life. Instead he focused on conducting his own works and fulfilling his responsibilities as the “Dean of American Composers,” which he took very seriously. Sadly, his output was also shortened by battles with dementia in his last years.

Q:

CJV: Please share your thoughts about Copland and his relationship with Mexico, which will be featured in our summer festival programming on July 13.

KL: During his time in Europe, Copland developed what would be a lifelong friendship with the founder of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico and “Dean of Mexican Composers,” Carlos Chávez. In 1932, at Chávez’s continued urging, Copland traveled to Mexico. During his visit, he was exposed to the famous dance hall that was the center for Mexican folk and popular dance, El Salón México. Copland would later say, “In some inexplicable way, while milling about in those crowded halls, I had felt a live contact with the Mexican people—that electric sense one gets sometimes in far-off places, of suddenly knowing the essence of a people— their humanity, their shyness, their dignity and unique charm. I remember quite well that it was at such a moment I conceived the idea of composing a piece about Mexico and naming it El Salón México.” El Salón México is joyous, exciting, and rhythmically vibrant. It’s one of the most “alive” pieces I know. Copland’s assimilation stylistically is so complete in this piece, which I was thrilled to record with the Boston Pops in 2000 for our Grammy-nominated The Latin Album. I can’t wait for our audiences to hear it during BMC’s Copland in Mexico concert. During his time in Mexico, Copland also met Chávez’s assistant, the young and fiery composer Silvestre Revueltas. While Chávez’s embodied the establishment in Mexican music, Revueltas represented the populists who believed that Mexican music should be devoid of Western European influences. As a result, Revueltas’s work is less tightly constructed but very full of raw energy. Sensemayá, for example, is often referred to as the “Latin Rite of Spring” and has a primitive, pagan feel to it. All three composers remained close, but in 1934 the bond between the two Mexican composers was forever broken when Chávez lost a government commission to Revueltas for the Redes film score. It is important to add that, personal relationships aside, there was a much larger sense of creating relationships among the Americas and about finding distinctive New World voices. This period in music was about the conflict between the academic music of the day, the necessity of study in Europe in the early 20th century, and the need to break out and establish something that was not European-derivative. It was a period that united these composers in each other’s work and fed each artist’s creativity.

Q:

CJV: What do you hope our audiences remember after experiencing our Copland Festival?

KL: I hope that they leave with a greater appreciation of Copland’s tremendous impact on the trajectory of American music beyond what was, until that time, primarily derivative of European models. And I hope they gain a greater understanding of our cultural voice—one that is based on many strains from many cultures all over the world—and the desire of artists to reflect their own culture. More than any other composer, Copland and his work are emblematic of 20th century American music.

2019 Summer Institute & Festival

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Q & A WITH KEITH LOCKHART

assimilating a country that is based on assimilation—you don’t have a common root across the American landscape. But composers in general during this period (with Copland perhaps leading the way) were thinking about what their role was in society. They were not only thinking about what they could write, but what they should write. Copland was famously politically and socially involved throughout his lifetime. He flirted with communism, not in a political sense but in a social sense. He believed that music could level the playing field and should be created for all Americans, not just those who could afford the ticket price. As a result, there was a very real and sincere populist streak in his music.

Profile for Brevard Music Center

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...